Farmers bring their cattle to camp to provide water and fodder
It’s Kavita Garje’s 10th day at the cattle camp and she can already predict the conditions for the next 10 months. “It didn’t rain at all this year, so our buffaloes have to be kept here at least till next September. We have no fodder or water for them,” the 13-year-old girl says, as she feeds her family’s seven buffaloes. That she has had to drop out of school for tending the cattle instead is the least of her parents’ worries in this drought year, it is clear. Beed is one of the worst affected districts in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region.
Like Kavita’s, there are at least 200 families at the cattle camp set up by the Mahesh Dudh Sangh in Beed’s Ashti district. Makeshift tents, less than 12 by 12 feet in size, are now home for men, women and children. “The living conditions here are bad, there’s nothing to speak about them. What can we do? There are people here who even own 20 acres of land. But in the time of drought, everyone becomes the same,” Rekha Kerulkar, a mother of three children, told The Hindu last week. “We cannot afford to go home every day and come back to look after the cattle every morning. The nights can be cold and brutal,” said Suvarna Shinde who has been living at the camp since it opened on December 6. Her village Tawalwadi is about 16 km away.
Migration of villagers
Dadasaheb Shinde, a jowar and cotton farmer who had to get five of his buffaloes to the camp stated that all his crops had become stunted. “I have no hope from my Kharif [summer] crop, I doubt I’ll get anything in Rabi [winter] too,” he said. Asked if migration to cities was an option he considered, he said: “Who will look after my animals if I go away? Nobody will even buy them now… The supposedly rich people from the village have been forced to vacate their houses and go to Pune and Mumbai searching for work at construction sites,” Datta Takle says. “We will have to be here till next year. Even if it rains in June, we will have to wait till September so that enough fodder is grown for the animals,” he said.
In the neighbouring Shirale village, there have been promises of setting up a cattle camp, but none is in sight. “Only 3,000 animals are allowed in a camp. Mine were not admitted in Shidewadi. Now I have to wait until a new one opens,” Noor Pathan, a farmer with 7 acres of land and 8 cows, said.
Official sources in the Aurangabad Divisional Commissionerate said Rs. 425 crore had been spent so far in drought-affected taluks. The maximum, Rs. 26 crore, was spent in Beed district. In Aurangabad district alone, 1,176 villages have been officially declared drought-hit, based on the amount of yield. Yet, sources who did not wish to be named stated that the State government needed more funds to sustain till the onset of the monsoon.
Aurangabad and Jalna districts that produce the highest number of the State’s sweet limes have had to struggle with the fruit crop this year. In Aurangabad’s Adul village, this correspondent met at least 10 sweet lime farmers who had uprooted their crop due to lack of water. Ganesh Barbade who volunteered to show his sweet lime orchard that once was, said: “When I approached the Tehsildar, he said keep the trees, cut of the fruits, it will require 40 per cent less water. But where do I get the rest of the 60 per cent from?” Tankers for the orchard cost Rs. 2,000 per hour, and the trees need to be watered every three days, which he couldn’t afford for his 15-acre farm. “I am already Rs. 15 lakh in debt,” Barbade stated. Another sweet lime farmer said his jowar crop was stunted and didn’t grow beyond three feet. With no orchards and no jowar or cotton fields, there is no work for the labourers that the big farms employed. “The only labour I needed this year was to cut the sweet lime trees,” Barbade stated.
Unemployment is another serious fall-out of the drought. Paithan taluk’s Balanagar village residents claim that the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) brought them no respite. “The works sanctioned under drought relief are being done by machines, and false signatures are taken and nobody gets paid,” Sunil Sutar stated. The village has enough problems that need to be dealt with, he feels. “The 13-member gram panchyat now only has four members, including the Sarpanch. But who cares about that now, when there are pressing problems like the lack of drinking water,” he asked.
Last month, after a long political furore, 3 tmcft of water from Western Maharashtra’s Mula dam was released into Marathwada’s Jayakwadi dam that had run dry. This was meant to facilitate drinking water supply to people. But according to Balanagar villagers, they have had no drinking water supply for over a month. “We have to pay Rs. 3 per pot, and the wait for water never ends,” Swarata Patekar said, as she held a pot to a leaking tap, the water only a slow trickle. While she was in conversation with this correspondent for over 30 minutes, only one pot was filled.